10 years later: Middletown's Christmas Eve murders - abc27 WHTM

Dauphin County

10 years later: Middletown's Christmas Eve murders

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On December 24, 2002, Middletown residents went to sleep dreaming of a white Christmas.

Instead, they woke up to yellow crime scene tape surrounding a home on North Union Street.

Word spread quickly about the horror of what had happened inside. A mother and her two daughters had been executed and a 9-month-old baby had been found alive, clinging to its deceased, 20-year-old mother. Police believe she had been alone for up to 30 hours.

"This was as premediated as anything could be," Dauphin County prosecutor Fran Chardo said. "It was an absolutely awful scene."

Ernest Wholaver, Jr. was eventually convicted of the shooting deaths of his wife, Jean, and his two daughters, 20-year-old Victoria and 15-year-old Elizabeth.

"When other people are spending their time with their families in moments of love, in a moment of hate Ernest Wholaver travels on Christmas Eve...to commit triple murder," Chardo said. "One of the most awful, awful crimes I've ever encountered."

Prosecutors believe Wholaver killed his family because his daughters had accused him of rape and were set to testify against him.

"To him, his freedom was more important than three lives and the life of a 9-month-old child," Chardo said.


Jeff Martin was Victoria Wholaver's boyfriend and he is the godfather of her daughter, Madison. She was the lone survivor of that tragic Christmas Eve crime.

"Maddie's pretty awesome," Martin said. "She's a very special girl... a lot like her mother."

Madison Wholaver is now 10-years-old and living in the Reading area with her father. She loves to dance and play with her baby brother. And she is reminded often of her mother's love.

"She is doing awesome," Martin said. "She has a lot of people that care for her and she really couldn't be any better."

Prosecutors believe Victoria Wholaver died protecting her younger sister and daughter. When she heard the gunshot that took her mother's life, Chardo said she grabbed the baby and ran to Elizabeth's room.

"I have no doubt that when Ernest Wholaver shot Victoria, she was holding that 9-month-old child in her arms," Chardo said.

"She adored Maddie, and she died for her," Martin said.


A jury decided that Ernest Wholaver should pay for his crimes with his life. He was given three consecutive death sentences. But 10 years later, there is no execution date in sight. Wholaver continues to appeal.

"He expresses in everything he files an intention to win a new trial and has accepted no responsibility whatsoever," Chardo said.

Martin said it's been a long 10 years since his girlfriend's death. He said it's something he thinks about every day.

"I feel like (Wholaver's execution) is the final piece of justice that needs to be served," Martin said. "It should have happened already."

Phone calls to Wholaver's Philadelphia-area attorney were not returned.


As Martin waits for that "final piece of justice," he tries to focus on the positive. Although his heart is still broken, it is also full of gratitude. When he agreed to sit down with abc27, he compiled a list of people he wanted to thank for helping him and his goddaughter after the killings.

That list includes Chardo, as well as investigators David Sweitzer, William Wenner, Andy Dickson, and Mike Maloney. He also expressed gratitude to Jennifer Storm and Diane Faust of the Dauphin County Victim/Witness Assistance Program for helping him through the trial. He said Victoria's boss, Leanne Walls, was instrumental in setting up a trust fund for Madison after the murder. He also expressed gratitude to his friends and family, including Andy Brought, Brian and Curt Sullivan, Travis Knisley, Jess Gratkowski, his mother, Gwen Baker, and his sister, Jodi Martin.

"I also need to thank Frank (Ramos, Madison's father) for sharing his daughter with me," Martin said. "I don't know where I'd be without her right now."

Martin believes that Madison is her mother's legacy.

"I think she (Victoria) lives on through Madison and through all of us," he said. "I just hope she's never forgotten."


Ernest Wholaver's brother, Scott Wholaver, is still serving time behind bars for his role in the deaths. Prosecutors said he drove his brother from western Pennsylvania to Middletown the night of the crime. Chardo said, by all accounts, Scott Wholaver has been a model prisoner and should be eligible for parole in about 2.5 years.








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